composer for film, theater, and TV

Orizuru Osen: making music for a silent film

Last year was quite an intense year for me. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in music composition and was left a feeling of “what now?” which was quite scary at the time. I didn’t know what to do or how to develop my career further. I had many interests but I seemed to be floating inside a white cloud, not really knowing where the floor was or where the sky was or where I was for that matter. I decided back then to take a gap year and work in something else to earn money while I tried to figure myself out.

I began working in a tourism company in Amsterdam, where I was lucky enough to meet two artists who were going through a bit of the same situation I was in: Carolina and Nathalia. Carolina is a composer, singer, and filmmaker, and Nathalia is an actress and singer. They are both insanely talented and unbelievably kind and we immediately clicked. We decided we were gonna make art together, but we still didn’t know what exactly.

For some reason, I remembered I had performed a couple of years back at the Sounds of Silence Festival in The Hague, and I found the idea of making music for a silent film quite attractive. Carolina and Nathalia were immediately in for it and I contacted the director of the festival, who was quite enthusiastic from the beginning. I began looking for a film right away

Searching the web is a bit like searching in your own mind, especially when you’re looking for inspiration. I always find myself exploring the same 3 topics: mysticism, sci fi, and Japanese culture. This search for a film to compose for was no exception, and I soon found myself looking at Japanese silent films. Orizuru Osen, which in English translates as Paper-crane Osen but has also been translated as The Downfall of Osen, struck me because of the beauty of its images and how the narration was constructed.

Our approach to the music was to make something that would go together with the emotions present, rather than the action, and so create much longer and broader musical gestures in order to avoid the much dreaded “mickeymousing.” Another aspect we had to take into account was the fact that we had to make music that lasted for the entire film, since there were no other sounds to work with. This meant that we also had to make music for moments where nothing happened or where there was so much action going on that it was better to keep the music minimal.

Another thing we did was to divide the film in sections and divide the work between us. Carolina and I discovered that our approach to composing is quite similar, we both tend to write quite melodic music, gravitating towards tonal and consonant harmonies, so I think that gave the overall sound quite a strong feeling of unity. It also helped to give more variety to the sound, because we used different samples and instruments to make the music, and in general I think I tended to make much more dense music, whereas she focused more on writing more melodies to which she could sing.

It is quite different to make music for a silent film than it is to work with a sound film. Because of what I mentioned before, in a silent film you really need to keep a balance in the music, otherwise the audience will go crazy with an hour and a half of nonstop themes and melodies. With a sound film you can sometimes just leave very long scenes without any music and let the sound and dialogue speak for itself. In a silent film, one of the ways we found to achieve a similar effect was to minimize the amount of elements to one or two. For example, in one moment, the only thing you hear is a very soft synth doing a slow melody, or in another just a repetitive hit on a bass drum. These gestures can seem almost comical in their simplicity, but they give also space for the film to speak for itself.

It was quite an enriching experience to work with a film and to participate in this festival. I would love to do it again in the near future, because I feel that it had a huge impact in my way of composing and in how I work with my musical ideas. Before, I felt very insecure about using certain elements (such as tonal chords and gestures), but I feel like I’m beginning to see more ways in which I can use them within my own language.

I also feel extremely lucky to have worked together with two very dear friends who are also extremely talented artists. We will definitely have more projects, so stay tuned!!

A small trailer Carolina made from our performance.

source image here